According to researchers in the Netherlands, occupational therapy improves the quality of life for dementia patients and their carers.
The researchers say that occupational therapy can help to improve the ability of dementia sufferers to perform daily activities and can also reduce the pressure on their caregivers.
As the world's aging population continues to grow, dealing with dementia has become a costly business.
The effects of dementia such as a loss of independence, initiative and participation in social activities,and the impact on patients, families and their caregivers and is resulting in a spiralling of costs for both health and social care systems in the developed world.
The researchers were aware that previous research has suggested that non-pharmalogical treatment could have the same or better effects than drug treatment for people with dementia, so they set out to examine the effect of occupational therapy on people with dementia and their main carer.
The research team from the University Medical Center Nijmegen, randomly divided a group of 135 patients with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers into two groups.
The first group received 10 home-based sessions of occupational therapy, provided by an experienced occupational therapist for a period of five weeks, while the second group received no occupational therapy.
The groups were then assessed six weeks and 12 weeks after the therapy sessions.
The researchers found that at both six weeks and three months, the patients who received occupational therapy functioned significantly better in daily life than those who did not.
Seventy five percent of those in the occupational therapy group showed an improvement in process skills and 82% needed less assistance in day to day tasks.
The therapy also had a knock-on effect as the primary caregivers who received occupational therapy felt significantly more competent than those who did not.
The researchers believe that occupational therapy is likely to be more effective than drugs or other psychosocial interventions, as the levels of improvement in their trial far outstripped the effects recorded in previous trials of drugs and other interventions.
The Dutch researchers say that they 'strongly advocate' the inclusion of occupational therapy in dementia management programmes.
Experts say they hope the results of the study will help change the attitude of health insurance companies and Medicare, who are often reluctant to fund occupational therapy for persons with dementia.
The study is published in the current edition of the British Medical Journal.